Thoughtful Traveling: Tree planting in Mount Cristobal with the Tourism Promotions Board

September 3, 2018

It was a gloomy Saturday morning when I dragged myself out of bed. I was reeling from a busy work week and relapsing from a three-day trip from one of the country’s white sand beaches  — I needed to get out of the busy metro. Life has a way of giving you exactly what you need. It was a day ago when my Filipina Explorer friend, Gretchen, asked who could go on this trip in her stead. I enthusiastically volunteered.

The day’s activity was a tree planting trip in Mount Cristobal Laguna with the PH Tourism Promotions Board, a routine CSR activity for the group.



Arrival


I woke up from a bus ride and I was in San Pablo, Laguna. Sans tall buildings and city smog, the gray skies looked almost serene. This town was the jump-off point for our hour and a half trek to the tree planting site. Smiling faces - mostly members of the Tourism Promotions Board - greeted me outside the bus.

Haribon Foundation spearheaded the event. Upon meeting members at the foot of Mount Cristobal, they explained what we were to do: Hike up, plant the remaining seedlings, and hike down. It sounded simple enough.

It wasn't. Mount Cristobal, found on the opposite side of Mount Banahaw, is protected land. The untamed mountain terrain proved to be a challenge - one the group was determined to overcome.


Ascent



For an hour and a half, our group was treated to a display of the countryside. For an hour and a half, we walked, we talked, we laughed, and we made friends. But most importantly, during that time, we appreciated nature in its raw and powerful glory. At 800 feet above sea level, we were witness to breathtaking views -- and the devastation humans can bring.

To date, the country is down to only less than 24 percent forest cover, with a loss of approximately 47,000 hectares of cover per year (source: Forest Management Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources). Considering we need forest cover of at least 54 percent to prevent landslides and similar disasters, we're not in the best shape. At the top of Mount Cristobal, as we planted each seedling, this was very apparent.


Descent


To say that climbing a mountain, any mountain, is humbling would be a grave understatement. I've always known that each crack and crevice of a place tells stories. This mountain, it told a haunting one.

But, people tell stories, too. On a trip with people who worked towards promoting travel to beautiful spots in the country, I learned of disappointing truths like the one on Mount Cristobal. The story is not that, however. It is of a small group who tried to make a difference one gloomy Saturday morning.


Photos and story by Isa Rodriguez

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